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tv   Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer  Current  December 18, 2012 5:00pm-6:00pm PST

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cenk: imagine how scary that is. >> they kept us blindfolded bound, we weren't physically beaten or tortured, psychologically tortured. choose which one would be shot first and then there were mock shootings. >> cenk: they lay their life on the line to bring you news. by the way, 67 have been killed so far this year, could be the deadliest year yet for reporters. remember that next time you see a foreign story these guys went through a lot to get it for you. great to have richard engel back in the united states now. "young turks." >> eliot: good evening. i'm eliot spitzer. this is "viewpoint." it has been four days since the tragic shooting at sandy hook
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elementary school where 26 people were murdered including 20 innocent children. the tears continue today as the coffins of james mattioli and jessica rekos were carried from st. rose of lima roman catholic church to their final resting place. on capitol hill, the pressure continues to mount for legislators to pass meaningful gun legislation. today the brady campaign to prevent gun violence held a press conference in front of the u.s. capitol featuring families whose lives have been affected by gun violence in an effort to make the emotional case for gun control. one of the speakers was a father whose son was in the hallway of sandy hook when the shooting began and was fortunately saved by heroic teacher. >> i'm andre i'm father of bear nikachuk my son miraculously survived the shooting. every time something like columbine, virginia tech or
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aurora are happening i would avert my eyes and i will still think something will be done. but all those beliefs were shattered on friday. let's stop these partisan division. it is not a partisan issue. it is an issue of safety of our children. >> eliot: echoing that powerful sentiment in an op-ed today, representative sheila jackson lee wrote that congress needs to pass stricter gun laws immediately, writing and i quote... >> eliot: for more, i'm joined
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by congresswoman sheila jackson lee, democrat of texas. thank you for joining us, congresswoman. >> thank you. it is good to be with you this evening although we are so saddened by the tragedy of last friday and those who mourn their children and those who mourn their family members who lost their lives. >> eliot: it has been heroic, a moment of national mourning. the beginning of a national conversation. you've been a major participant in this as we try to get our arms around gun control. you've spoken so eloquently in your op-ed today part of which we read, where do you think there is going to be a point of agreement, a consensus that will permit congress to actually pass bills? >> eliot i'm really, this evening, going to plead or make a plea and the pleading that i'm going to do and the plea that i make is that this is an american discussion. this is a dialogue among americans. not democrats republicans independents, i happen to have a
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new district that includes rural areas of texas in an urban congressional district so i'm in essence going to multitask on the issues i'm going to be involved in. but i'm going to ask americans who have responsibility for policy to do as i've done. to take a look at this sheet reflects the number of gun shootings in my area and throughout texas. an eighth grader brought a gun to school and died when a police officer shot them or a 16-year-old at a high school or four or five people that have been shot or a little boy 4 years old who got a gun accidentally from his home and shot himself. or a 5-year-old who took a gun to school. if we begin to look at this issue from a perspective that we have a responsibility to protect our children and we sense a sense of urgency almost, eliot i think you know the era of the civil rights time when dr. king brought to a crescendo with the
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tragedies in birmingham and marches, a climate that president johnston indicated we had to act and we passed major civil rights legislation. we're at that moment in history now. so my point is i want to take away the shackles of this divisiveness and i'm very glad to hear from nra republicans when i say supported republicans and democrats who have been moved to even say that they want to make a public pronouncement. now, however, after the pronouncements and the mourning because i don't think we should involve those families. they have a wound that's so deep that it will take them time to heal. we need to act as policymakers now. so i believe with a number of members we know the senator feinstein is working in the senate. many of us are working here in the house. congressman mccarthy and many other members but rather than say that we're going to do it, i really believe the sense of
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urgency is for us to move absolutely right now. >> eliot: that urgency is something that the public senses and i think we have seen the sort of tectonic shift that you're talking about when we see senator marchingen who is a democrat, not for gun control until this horrific event. saying the world is now different. snow scarborough on tv saying the past is no longer relevant. we have to understand this in a different way. we regulate so many different elements and commodities in life from candy bars to wearing seat belts because they create harm. guns have to be viewed that same way and if we viewed them that way, i think we would get to the point you're talking about. >> absolutely. eliot, let me give you two statistics. i know everyone has been throwing a bunch of numbers. two are very daunting, if you will. 41% of the homicides that occur would not have occurred if a gun was not present. 94% of suicides would not have
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occurred if a gun was not present. these are stark numbers. i believe besides the assault weapons ban which i see this growing momentum behind but really you've got to pass legislation. i humorously want to tell you we can have the momentum to pass it and somebody can strike it or filibuster and we're back where we were. but i think if we look at things deliberatively. if people realize with the new technology, we're buying guns on the internet without background checks. we need to close that gaping hole. we need to look at the mental health structure. i don't want to be exclusive. i want to be inclusive and we've got to give parents the comfort level that i've got to get my young man young woman my teenager to either a private counseling situation or residential treatment or publicly-funded residential treatment. we've got to look at things in a synergistic manner. >> eliot: all of those issues need to be on the table. you mentioned elements from the assault weapons ban to background checks to the magazines that have too many
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bullets. i want to ask you about an issue. you refer to the potential to filibuster and things that get in the way of actual action. something called the hastert rule which exists in the house which says the majority party the republicans won't bring a bill to the floor unless a majority of their own party supports it. i'm a little worried that speaker boehner will not let the sorts of bills you're talking about that would pass if it got to a vote, they may not get to the floor for a vote because of that little speed bump there. how do we deal with that? >> well, in addition to other legislation, i've got one hr277 that deals a lot with parents making sure they secure guns and a number of other items dealing with protective children. but here's the point that i want to make. there has to be a surge of public opinion that includes faith leaders from fundamentalists to conservatives and others in their pulpits this
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past weekend raising up their voices and for those of us, many different faiths, we know that the part of faith that is scriptured is about action. so i think the first order of business has to be this. there has to be a surge a tsunami of public opinion and members not giving up to insist that this legislation come on the floor. now i don't want to be provocative, controversial or divisive so really i'm going to say that there needs to be republicans who recognize that this is larger than us. this is larger than political process. we happen to be the implementaters of what people are frustrated by. what are you going to do? the other part of it is that the president has seemingly -- evidence he's going to use the bully pulpit. if there is ever a humanitarian mission here in this congress or in america for a bully pulpit, it has to be this. we have to have emotion to overcome. just a slight example eliot i want to press on because i knew
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these individuals. the dixiecrats that president johnson had to work with, they were standing in the way. they were not going to pass or move on the 64 civil rights act or the '65 voting rights act which gave the opportunity for a young lady named barbara jordan to come the united states congress. but they were not going to move. if any of us -- why don't we send all of the congress to see lincoln. we need a lincolnesque moment. we need a johnson moment. we need to respond to the surge and that surge needs to overcome the procedural hastert posture and actually the speaker needs to be able to lead on this question. what will america do together to answer this question? i'm going to be getting statistics to show us that when we had the assault weapons ban it has been documented that the use of that weapon went down in criminal activities. >> eliot: no question about it. i think you said something hugely important. we're going to send the entire congress and the president to go
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together to watch the movie "lincoln." we'll get gun control. congresswoman sheila jackson lee, good luck getting the critically important legislation passed. >> thank you for your service and all of the law enforcement officers eliot i will be reaching out to them. they should be stakeholders in this effort. >> eliot: indeed they should be. thank you. >> thank you. >> eliot: of course, any meaningful gun control legislation will run afoul of the nra which, despite diminished influence, continues to be the driving force keeping assault weapons and high capacity magazines available for sale. today, the nra released its first statement since friday's shooting saying and i quote... (vo)answer: pour disaronno into >> eliot: for more on what the nra means by meaningful contribution, i'm joined by will bunch, senior writer for the "philadelphia daily news" and
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author of "the backlash." thanks for joining us. >> eliot thanks for having me. >> eliot: what do you make of that rather bland nra statement? are they going to go into a defensive crouch and oppose everything? >> well, i mean there's rumors that they're looking at crisis management in the tylenol mode which is kind of where they're at now. we're definitely seeing a dramatic turning of the tide. there have been some incredible events today where dick's sporting goods has stopped selling certain kinds of semi-automatic weapons. walmart has stopped selling some. we see the private hedge fund behind the maker of the gun that the killer and the newtown incident used, state that they're going to try to sell the company and get out of the firearms business. so this is really a watershed moment. i think the nra is really on its heels which is why i argue that we really need to work strongly to marginalize the nra and to
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recognize what a radical fringe group it's become over the last generation. >> eliot: i wanted to come back in a moment to how one can do that because i think that's exactly right. how to reveal to the public that they are a fringe group and perhaps more importantly reveal to the members of congress that the nra is a fringe group that should not be accorded the respect and the perceived power it has had in the past. i want to read a quote from wayne la lapierrre the head of the nra that you use in a powerful article you've written. this is wayne won't pierre, ceo of the nra saying with four more years of obama your firearms freedoms are gone and we'll spend the rest of our lives mourning the freedoms we've lost. every freedom we cherish as americans is endangered by obama. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. now, that is not what i would call a modulated, reasoned thoughtful reaction to the politics of the world. this sounds like a guy who is a paranoid nut. which he might be. how did the nra end up like this? >> to bar a cliche, this is not
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your father's nra. the history it used to be more of a sporting group. it supported gun control in 1934 and it supported or endorsed a certain kind of gun control in 1968. it is only since the 1970s that the leadership the nra has hijacked by this radical group that you know, really, you know, engages in the kind of fearmongering and paranoia -- even glenn beck would blush at some of this stuff which is hard to believe. they do it -- i mean it fueled rise in gun sales in ammo sales. ammo sales went through the roof when barack obama became president because they told their members he was going to confiscate people's guns and they're still pushing this message. this puts more money into the pockets of the gun companies and the gun companies funnel that money back to the nra and they use that to outspend gun control groups on lobbying and political
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fund-raising by 10-1, sometimes by 25-1. >> eliot: you're making a hugely important distinction which is that the nra perhaps is no longer representing its membership which at four million strong, when they're polled, kind of indicate that they're in support of rational gun control. assault weapons ban background checks, closing the gun show loophole. they're for that. the way the vast majority of the american public is as well. you're saying the nra in fact, may be representing the industry, not its membership. am i getting this right? >> right exactly. there was a poll by frank luntz that showed that 74% of nra members support background checks. closing the gun show loophole and having background checks for all purchases. 74% of nra members. and the majority of nra members support many other reasonable regulations on guns. so you know, really we're talking about a case where the membership has gone in one direction and you know, i think
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what we need here is i think we need shame. that's the keyword. i think being associated with the nra needs to be a shameful experience for the politicians who continue to stick by them, certainly for these gun manufacturers. you know i think people should be flooding cities like easton where they're going to have their convention this year and showing that this is a group that's not the majority of the american viewpoint. >> eliot: i think there is an opportunity to say to the leadership of the nra, it doesn't represent you. the nra has an online news show on their web site. today's episode had this piece of so-called reporting. >> senator dianne feinstein has already said she will introduce legislation that would reimpose the assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004. a ban we all know was a failed experiment from the start. >> eliot: failed experiment even though it reduced crime by 6.7% just in the couple of years, violent assault weapon
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crime, have to check the data exactly in the few years it was in place. you know it is shocking to me they continue to try to spew completely counter factual information and support the dissemination and the easy access to the sorts of weapons that no rational person wants. but as you point out, this was not always the nra. how do you bring them back? how do you bring the shame to bear? >> i think like you said, the nra is going to be there. we can't silence them. we can marginalize them. you know, not take seriously what they say. let politicians know that they're representing a very tiny minority of the american public and you know, i think sensible gun groups have a lot of work to do. i think they should spend more money on lobbying and on political fund-raising if necessary. i think politicians that refuse to see where this thing is heading should be challenged. even democrats who continue to stick by the nra they may see
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primary challengers in 2014 because that's how strongly people feel about this issue. >> eliot: there are multiple avenues here. making sure the nra membership know that its leadership is off to the crazed far right as compared to where they are. second making it clear the nra leadership represents manufacturers and bring pressure to the manufacturers who are whom the buck cannot be permitted to be more powerful than human life. will, this is all great stuff. we thank you for your reporting. will bunch senior writer for the "philadelphia daily news" and author of "the backlash." >> thank you eliot. a director talks about his time as a gun lobbyist coming right up.
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(vo) next on current tv: >> i am here to make a citizen's arrest. (vo) current tv presents a month long festival of true stories. get real for the holidays. >> eliot: 74% of nra members believe a background check should be required when purchasing a gun. an additional 74% believe the concealed carry permits should only be grant to those who have created a gun safety program. 71% of nra members believe people on the terrorist watch list should not be allowed to buy guns. yet for some reason, the nra has opposed all of the moderate
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points of gun control. the question of the moment could well be what does the nra mean by meaningful contributions? joining me now is a former legislative director for the nra, now president of independent firearm owners association. and author of ricochet, confessions of a gun lobbyist. richard, thanks for joining us. >> thank you for having me. >> eliot: now in this very emotional moment when obviously there is grief. there is also much talk about reform. what changes would you make? in our gun laws, if you could right now? >> well, let's be clear about the gun misusages. there are three different kind of misusages and each require different policy solutions. there is the negligent misuse, the intentional criminal misuse of a firearm and then the crazed maniac unfortunately that causes the most damage but is actually rather infrequent.
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statistically speaking but is the most horrific of all events. but each one poses a separate set of issues. when i was listening to the congresswoman, she was kind of mixing and matching one from the other and it gets a little confusing because there is a completely different set of criteria for each of the problems. >> eliot: richard not to interrupt, but i would agree analytically, you're right. negligence, intent and crazed maniac are different. different root causes underneath each of them. but to come back to -- since this is tv and time is short what changes would you make in the legal framework we've got in terms of access to guns understanding access issues relate to each of these three different categories you've created in a different way. what changes would you make in terms of access? background checks, safety mechanisms, what would you do differently? >> you know, the problem really is in sitting down and focusing
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exactly as you suggested in many ways as president obama suggests, let's put everything on the table. if we just look narrowly, we're going to come up with some answers that don't fit the reality of the world. we really need to look at this problem both as a criminology problem, a psychological problem and that's what it is. let's take the gun show issue. we propose at the independent firearm owners, legislation we call the gun show preservation and protection act. there's nothing wrong with gun shows. the problem although it is actually relatively small, can be fixed. it is the transfer of a firearm to people you don't know that have no business owning guns. >> eliot: again, i hate to interrupt. but to put a finer point on it so we all understand. some people might but i'm not sitting here saying eliminate gun shows but the problem with gun shows is the transfer of guns without a background check. could we agree you need a
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background check when you have any transaction even if it's not from a licensed dealer, even the private sale you shouldn't sell to somebody who hasn't had a background check? >> at a gun show, you find complete agreement with us on that point. but the way to accomplish it is the tricky part. the devil, as you know, is almost always in the details. >> eliot: the devil is in the details when i was a. g. if we can agree on that principle, that's a good first step. how about the size of magazines. when you look at the horrific shootings, granted these fall more into the third category of crazed individuals but who needs a magazine with 100 bullets? can we agree that saying you know what, a magazine with five bullets, ten pick a number, you can negotiate it but certainly not 30, not 100. can we agree those should not be sold? >> the problem when you focus on the gun is that we miss the problem -- we miss the real issue which is always in whose hands are the guns?
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and i suspect very strongly we agree who shouldn't have guns and if we articulate the issue from that perspective, we're going to find a great deal of agreement whether you're from the brady campaign or the national rifle association. we are all in agreement in this country who shouldn't have guns. that's the key. >> eliot: again, i don't want to interrupt but we would agree no doubt we need to invest much more and i listened to a number of your interviews today and you're eloquent on the issue of the investment we need to make and the psychological care of those who need help. we agree. take that as a premise but i don't think it confronts what is the proximate cause to some of the horrific events which is the easy access to the guns. we need to say more into mental health and healthcare at large. you would also agree i presume that if somebody does get his or her hands on a gun and you have a magazine with 100 bullets they're going to more readily do
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enormous harm than if the magazine had three or five bullets. >> eliot, the problem here is the whole herd is out of the barn. there's probably in excess of a couple of hundred million high capacity magazines out there now. i suppose if you ban the future sale like we did during the assault weapons ban ten years and incidentally, eliot the congressional research service found that it had no impact on crime whatsoever. leaving that aside -- in 25 to 50 years i imagine that there would be some influence if those magazines eventually disappear. but that's not what america is asking. america wants to do something that's going to have an immediate impact. again, if we focus on how did this particular shooter access the guns? well, we're never going to exactly know perhaps. but it seems pretty clear from a
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distance that why in this instance, when the mother knew she had a very disturbed son she didn't keep those guns in a far more secure location. it seems to me a gun safe where i keep my guns, would have been much more appropriate in this situation. >> eliot: richard i won't disagree with you about that at all. create an obligation to maintain guns in a way so they can't be stolen. use them properly. it is absolutely critical to all of this. i think we have some semblance of an agreement. we'll increase spending on healthcare. get rid of the loopholes at gun shows. we'll limit the size of magazines and we'll continue our discussion some other day because time is up about whether or not the assault weapons ban last time worked or not. but i think look, there is an agreement here. this is meaningful, richard. yes, sir. last word to you. >> let's -- you know, let's not allow the things we disagree about prevent us from moving forward on the areas where we
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agree. >> eliot: could not agree more. we'll have you back to continue the conversation. thank you, sir for joining us. >> thank you. >> eliot: the power of the purse could bring gun reform. that's next. what we need are people prepared for the careers of our new economy. by 2025 we could have 20 million jobs without enough college graduates to fill them. that's why at devry university we're teaming up with companies like cisco to help make sure everyone is ready with the know-how we need for a new tomorrow. [ male announcer ] make sure america's ready. make sure you're ready. at ♪ ♪
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>> eliot: citizens have begun to take action following the tragedy in newtown connecticut and in some cases have already achieved results. investors in cerberus capital management including the california state teacher's retirement system put enough pressure on the firm to force them to announce to sell gun manufacturers they own including bushmaster, the maker of the ar-15. dick's sporting goods one of the country's largest sellers of firearms has temporarily suspended the sale of assault rifles and calls are heating up on walmart the nation's largest seller of firearms to follow suit.
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joining us now is george zornick, washington reporter for the nation. you wrote a fascinating piece today about walmart. describe it. legislation isn't the only way to accomplish gun control. what are the other levers and pressure points? >> sure, i mean you look at what walmart has done over the past couple of years. expanding gun sales to more than half of their stores which is where it used to be a third or less, and it is something that they realized quite a bit of profits from. they've seen the gun sales go up 74%. when they did that, there wasn't a lot of public fanfare. they didn't heavily advertise guns are coming back to walmart. they did it because it was a smart money decision to do. if you look at at walmart, they don't sell any thing that has the black and white advisory on it. more so because they're afraid that those kind of products will lead to boycotts, particularly church groups, evangelical groups and that could harm them
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in the deep south. up until this point the gun sales which have earned them quite a bit of money have not earned them negative public attention so they continue to sell them. now the question is with more public pressure on the store will they find it to be a losing proposition to carry basically these domestic weapons of mass destruction alongside sweaters and toys and whatever else they sell. >> eliot: it seems to me there are two basic avenues here. consumer pressure which is what you're talking about. will the public say we don't think you should be selling this. you point out properly, the magazines they sell, the cds music, movies, they edit, they filter. they say this isn't the store we want to be. so why is it that certain semiassault weapons fit into that imagery and can we change that. are there groups out there consumer groups that can effectively organize and go to the waltons family that owns walmart and say change the way you run your store. >> yeah, i think you're already
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slowly starting to see that happen. there are plenty of groups that have been and have been long been targeting walmart for their labor practices or for undercutting local competition or whatever the issue may be. again, as more public pressure is brought to bear on the fact and particularly consider the fact that walmart is trying to expand into urban areas that's the next phase of the walmart story is putting stores in cities. so as walmart is beginning to approach these urban municipalities saying hey we want to build a store, i think you can expect that the gun issue is going to be a big talking point between the politicians and the store. >> eliot: the consumer pressure points are there and are real. sometimes consumers are hard to organize. on the other hand, the other avenue for organizing is investors. investors not so important with walmart because walmart is still owned and controlled to a great extent by the walton family. the example of cerberus, a hedge fund where the investors are pension funds entities that themselves have to worry about the public imagery of where they invest and so when it became clear that cerberus owned the
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company that makes the ar-15 the entity is the pension funds that invested in cerberus decided hey, we don't want to be doing that. you get calisters going to cerberus saying get out of this line of business or we'll pull our money. that seems to be another perhaps easier pressure point that could be brought to bear on the large financial entities. >> sure. of course, you can trace the money trail from cerberus to the freedom group to walmart in its most recent financial statement freedom group said that 13% of its sales over the past nine months went to walmart. that's tens of millions of dollars that we're talking about. when calisters did this and forced the sale by cerberus of freedom group you know, this is something that can affect it right on down the line to what's on the store at walmart. obviously there's quite a bit of work left to be done. freedom group will no doubt persist with new backers new investors and so on. but when you start to follow the money trail you realize that the money and the profiteering off dangerous weapons are concentrated in pretty few hands
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and so there's very easily identifiable target points that will influence quite a bit more of what happens in this country in terms of gun sales. >> eliot: it may be the example of cerberus is an easy example in the sense that there you had a big hedge fund, private equity entity, $20 billion in capital total that controls much of it from sort of institutional players who don't want to be associated with the manufacturer of the ar-15. but i think if there are enough instances like that, you have a whole new theory here where endowments to universities, the pension funds can say wait a minute! we don't simply invest for maximum profit. we invest with some sense of morality and building and paying for the guns that kill kids is not what we want to do. this could be a fruitful next chapter. >> i agree. i think people should be cautious about what has been achieved so far. it is still promising and perhaps more easy than the root of what's happening here in washington, d.c. i'm pretty optimistic. i think an assault weapons ban could be passed but of course,
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most of the gun violence that happens in this country has to do with handguns and handgun sales and handgun ammunition. there is no political appetite to tackle that problem. >> eliot: that's unfortunately the case. george zornick, washington reporter for "the nation," thank you for your insights and writing and you have back on the show as this evolves. >> thank you eliot. look forward to it. >> eliot: connecticut senator richard blumenthal joins me next.
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powers that bind them all and i think that they are recovering well. but the last four days have been very, very tough and i will live forever with the anguish cries and sobs of parents as they emerged emerged from that firehouse after learning that their children, babies who went to school that day to make gingerbreads and learn their abcs would never be coming home. i think it is going to take time and everyone in the community is affected because everybody virtually everybody knows everyone else. >> eliot: the horror of this is beyond words. turning to and i've listen and watched you over the past day in particular talking about the need to find common ground in meaningful solutions. you express cautious optimism. the nra on the other hand certainly brings an highlism to this where they blame everything but access to guns. do you think we've broken through the critical mass of republican senators who have in the past, stood loyally by the nra?
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>> i'm encouraged by what i'm hearing from my republican colleagues who are revisiting if not rethinking their position. we've seen evidence of it. in some of our democratic friends like joe manchin of west virginia, mark warner of virginia, harry reid the majority leader who has expressed the need to address this issue of gun violence. so we have to stay with it. it is going to be a tough fight. it has never been easy. and it has never been politically safe. but whatever the political consequences, i believe that the american people now have been so moved by this horrific and unspeakable tragedy that they will speak up and i just hope that your viewers and the american people stay with it. >> eliot: everybody certainly is talking about closing the gun show loopholes and bans on assault weapons and semiassault weapons and limiting the size of magazines to a certain number of bullets certainly below what is accessible now.
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beyond those areas that seem to be emerging as consensus points, are there more creative ideas? are there things closer to the edge you want this to continue to talk about to build a national consensus? >> whether they're creative or not, the quality of the background checks is also an issue that needs to be addressed. how reliable and comprehensive they are. anything we can do to keep these weapons out of the hands of troubled deranged people is absolutely necessary. that will involve also mental health initiatives. dave rockefeller of west virginia has emphasized that point and of course, the culture of violence in our society video games movies, other forms of cultural expression, not that we want to limit expression. i'm a strong believer in the first amendment but i think by consensus, by voluntary efforts there can be progress in those areas as well. >> eliot: i know you as not
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only a historian but someone who revered senator moynihan. he came up with the idea of bullet control. he said there are too many guns out there in circulation but the number of bullets is limited. maybe somehow we can make access to bullets more limited. is that an idea? i know it is sort of on the edge but it is something we should be talking about. >> very much so because what really obviously is essential to this kind of massacre is a large number of bullets and but for the heroism of the s.w.a.t. team that went into the building not knowing what they were going to find, a lot more people would have been slaughtered last friday. of course, the killer turned his gun on himself when he knew that he was going to be apprehended. and that was the end of the massacre. but the number of bullets he had could have killed many more people and at the very least perhaps sending some signal that there's a need for oversight
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when somebody buys a large amount of ammunition without any license or oversight i think is an important area to discuss. >> eliot: very quickly one of the finest lawyers i know, i have to ask you the supreme court has been expanding the notion of gun rights under the second amendment. is there any way to turn that battle around as well? >> its latest decision is discouraging but the supreme court is open for argument on this issue. right now, we have to live with the law that there are the second amendment rights. by the way, no constitutional right is absolute. and the constitutional right of the second amendment is one that i respect. but it has limits and those limits sensible, common sense common ground, i think we can bridge the differences and even my republican colleagues, i shouldn't say even but many of them are now more reasonable on this point. >> eliot: i hope you argue the
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next case before the supreme court on that. finest lawyer i know. richard blumenthal of connecticut. thanks as always. >> thank you. >> eliot: the so-called fiscal cliff deal is starting to take shape. but is the president caving? robert reich is next. that's half that's not half! guys, i have more! thanks mom [ female announcer ] pillsbury crescents. let the making begin the saying easy as pie? i get it now. just unroll it fill, top, bake, and present. that must have taken you forever! it was really tough. [ female announcer ] pillsbury pie crust. let the making begin
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>> eliot: former labor secretary robert reich talks fiscal negotiations and says hands off social security. he joins me next.
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bp >> eliot: against the backdrop of the newtown tragedy washington has talked incessantly about children safety but at the same time it is cutting investment in children. with respect to a proposed fiscal cliff compromise and the bush tax cuts, social security and medicare, former labor secretary robert reich tweeted today that president obama is caving on the cliff. professor reich joins me now. his best selling ebook "beyond outrage" is now out in paperback. buy it and read it. welcome to the show, professor. >> good evening.
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>> eliot: why is the president caving and what issues in particular? explain what he should be doing. >> well, as we know, the fiscal cliff is much scarier to republicans than to democrats because it signifies huge cuts in the military and also major tax increases for republicans patrons, the very wealthy. it is not that terrifying to democrats who can easily pass a law on january 2nd that provides a tax cut for the middle class and make it retroactive to january 1st. against that backdrop, you would think the president would not have to compromise very much or would not have to feel he had to compromise very much and yet he has done so. not only is he lifting the threshold for the tax hike up to $400,000. in fact it looks like he might go higher from that from $250,000 but he's also chipping away at social security and medicare by fiddling with the formula for inflation. for determining inflation with
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regard to social security payments. and also medicare payments. >> eliot: i want to take a couple of these points one by one. the $400,000 threshold was the president's last offer. it is unlikely that will be accepted. speaker boehner's offer was a million. so in the natural course of a compromise if it ends up at $500,000 $600,000, that is not where it should be in your view. >> if you live in san francisco or new york city, it might seem like $250,000 or $300,000 is not very much but listen, in terms of the nation as a whole the median wage is around $50,000. the median family income is close to $58,000. i mean anybody earning over $250,000 is very wealthy in terms of the country as a whole. if you push it up to $400,000, those people between $250,000 and $400,000 are not going to have any tax increase at all. if you push it up above $400,000 toward the $1 million mark, speaker boehner is putting out
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there, you know, you're going to have a very relatively small tax increase in terms of the number of people affected, very little revenues will be raised relative to what otherwise could be raised. >> eliot: in return for this threshold that's too high, as you just stated, the president is putting social security and medicare on the table. let's begin with social security which we have said over and over. it is simply unrelated to our deficit problem. why is it even on the table? >> should be on the table. social security has been running a surplus for years. social security surpluses have actually disguised for many administrations. for 25 years or more. exactly the extent of our budget deficit. and the government spending. so why should the baby boomers who have put all of this money away, discover that once they are retired they're not actually going to get what they had expected. the cost of living adjustments that are built into social security are going to be under the president's proposal, going to be less than they otherwise
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would be. >> eliot: now this so-called chain cpi it is too gnarly to get into, year upon year, it compounds and says your benefits will grow at a slower rate than you might have otherwise expected. >> that's exactly right eliot. the key to it in terms of understanding, we don't have to get too wonky. the way social security -- inflation index was developed if, for example, one year, the price of food went up by 5% then the cost of living would go up in terms of what you would get as a retiree. by 5%. but what this new formula would do is it would assume that you as a retiree if food price went up or if certain kind of food went up, you would substitute something else. that is if chicken went up, you would substitute a cheaper kind of food. well, you know, the absurdity of that is that you get around to
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dog food. if food prices go up and you can't afford any meat and you substitute dog food, does that mean your actual price of living your cost of living is not going up? it doesn't take into consideration the downdraft the decline of living standards that many people would have to endure. nor does it consider the fact that if you are elderly more and more of your money goes into healthcare and healthcare is inflating much faster than anything else in the economy. >> eliot: as you compound the impact of these diminished cpi inflators, i've always said compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. over time, this takes a big chunk out of what the seniors would be receiving on social security. let me pivot just a little bit. in return for all of this, you would think at least the president would get a lifetime exemption to go back to congress to raise the debt ceiling. he's not. he's getting one year or two years. why doesn't he hold firm and say we're not going through this charade and this crazy kabuki
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dance ever again? >> it is either because the president desperately needs or feels he needs to reach a deal right away before time runs out. or he feels that he wants to look as if he's very reasonable, make the republicans look desperately unreasonable because he doesn't think that speaker boehner is going to be able to sell anything to the tea party republicans. or it may be another part of this kabuki dance the problem is once the president puts something on the table and we're after the election and the public has already registered its desire to raise taxes to not cut social security, to not cut medicare, once he puts those positions on the table, it is going to be very difficult for him to backtrack from those positions when we get to real bargaining over the grand bargain. >> eliot: last question, unfortunately we have time for. seems to me as you said at the top, one of the good things in the threat of going over the fiscal cliff is genuine cuts in defense spending. will they be i
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